Study: More want treatment instead of jail for non-violent drug users; Drug treatments courts on rise in Wisconsin Submitted: 04/04/2014
Story By Adam Fox

CRANDON - A new Pew Research study conducted in February shows that a large majority of Americans support treatment for non-violent drug users instead of mandatory jail sentences.

67 percent of people surveyed believe the government and courts should focus on treatment for drug users.

Judges and prosecutors face a tough judgement and balance of figuring out the appropriate punishment for non-violent drug users in court.

Forest County Prosecutor Chuck Simono says he sees a remarkably high number of repeat offenders in the county even after spending time in jail.

"Just from what I've seen in Forest County over the last six years, I would put the recidivism rate in excess of 70 to 80 percent," Simono said.

Many Wisconsin communities are turning to drug treatment courts. It's a program with courts for non-violent drug users that combines treatment, sanctions, drug tests and care for when they've stopped using drugs.

Simono says the social movement has shifted to more of a focus on treatment to get people rehabilitated and back in the community. He seems more hopeful for people successfully going through a drug treatment program.

"They're going to return to the community, they're going to get a job, they're going to be productive," Simono said. "They're going to help contribute to a positive way of life rather than what we see when we just jail people."

Leaders in Forest County, including the Forest County Potawatomi, hope to form a treatment court to help users and cut costs.

"The cost to just continually jail individuals is just enormous," Simono said. "Unfortunately for some individuals that's going to be the only answer, others will find treatment successful."

Prosecutors, judges and social workers want to rehabilitate everyone, but sometimes even treatment isn't the answer. Simono says some people decline treatment for jail instead. Others repeatedly go through treatment without fully grasping the rehab.

"We have others that insist on treatment that have been five times already," Simono said. "They're still not adapting and utilizing the coping skills that they've been acquiring over all of their trips to treatment."

Leaders in Forest County hope to win a federal grant that would pay for the setup of the court.

The treatment court could be running as soon as this year if they win the grant, but the county and Forest County Potawatomi don't have the funding to start the court without federal help.

Wisconsin has around 50 drug treatment courts throughout the state.

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MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin's utility regulator is planning to spend more money on energy projects in rural areas, including a plan to help underwrite the use of systems that convert cattle manure into electricity.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the systems known as manure digesters also help farms manage waste, which has become an increasingly controversial issue in Wisconsin as the size of dairy farms grows.

Wisconsin Public Service Commission officials say they're considering spending $10 million to $20 million on manure digester technology.

The commission also voted Thursday to authorize at least $7.7 million in funding for rebates for solar, wind and geothermal projects around the state that would keep a rebate program in place for energy consumers.

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RHINELANDER - When people think first responders, cops, firefighters and EMTs usually come to mind. 

But the true first responder is often the person they'll never meet.

It's Nicole Lea's job to be at her best when you're at your worst.

"There's no other reason your calling us to say, 'Hey, hope you're having a great day.' It is their worst day when they're calling us," said Lea.

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RHINELANDER - The Northwoods Land Trust helps protect about 12,000 acres of natural lands in six northern Wisconsin counties.

That amount of conservation is a big job. But the organization employs just one full-time and two part-time staff members.

The Land Trust relies on the help of about 40 volunteers to accomplish its mission, volunteers like Nancy Richmond.

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MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee police officer who sparked several nights of protest after fatally shooting a black man in August has been charged with five counts of sexual misconduct in a separate case stemming from an alleged attack two days after the shooting.

The criminal complaint alleges Dominique Heaggan-Brown took the victim to a bar late on the night of Aug. 14 where they drank and watched TV as coverage of the protests aired. The victim told police he had trouble remembering everything that happened after they left the bar but that he felt drugged. He said he woke up to find Heaggan-Brown assaulting him.

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RHINELANDER - Thanks to funds from one company, Wild Instincts in Rhinelander will get to expand its facility. The non-profit got a $4,400 Green Gift from Cellcom.

Wild Instincts was one of 22 organizations to get a 2016 Cellcom Green Gift. Cellcom gave almost $38,000 in funds out this year.

Wild Instincts has helped rehabilitate wildlife across the state since 2011. Director Mark Naniot explained that with a growing need to help animals comes a growing need for space.

The Green Gift program uses funds from Cellcom's cell phone recycling program to fund green non-profit initiatives.

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MADISON - Wisconsin may be the dairy state, but we've seen a decline in the number of dairy farms.

A report from the federal Agriculture Department shows that Wisconsin lost almost 400 dairy farms in the last year.

About 94-thousand dairy herds were active in the state as of October 1st.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association President Gordon Speirs says the number of lost farms this year is low compared to previous years.

Annual losses reached as high as 1-thousand in some years.

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MADISON - About 30 percent of all absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin so far come from the state's most heavily Democratic counties.

The latest data posted on the Wisconsin Elections Commission website shows 55,000 ballots cast in Milwaukee and Dane counties.

21,700 have come in from three conservative counties near Milwaukee.

Over 183,000 were cast statewide.

Republican candidates typically must do well in those Milwaukee suburban counties to counter the Democratic votes in Milwaukee and Madison.

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